Drastic improvement required after ugly USA defeat
HARRISON, N.J. —
There is no hiding from this increasingly miserable predicament. The past few months stripped away any cover for the United States national team piece by humbling piece. This is not a good spell. Not by any measure. The performances and the results are poor. The failures raise questions about the future and reinforce the need to improve with World Cup qualifying on the horizon.
It is not a point lost on U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann or the players involved. Klinsmann cited the quick turnaround from the CONCACAF Cup defeat to Mexico on Saturday as part of the reason for an ugly performance in the 1-0 loss to Costa Rica on Tuesday at Red Bull Arena, but he understands those circumstances do not excuse the defeat.
The air cover provided in the wake of a third consecutive loss is only part of the story, though. Right now, it is simply not good enough from anyone involved. They know it. And if they didn’t know it, they could certainly glean it from the rancorous debate surrounding Klinsmann’s future and the prospects of the side moving forward.
“He’s a big boy and we’re big boys,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “We lost. It sucks. But you know what, that’s part of why we get paid. The players who can’t cope with it and deal with it are at home watching on TV. It’s part of what it is to be at this level. You have to go through some tough times.”
It is not enough to sway Klinsmann from his role. He reaffirmed his commitment to the job after the defeat on Tuesday. U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati publicly backed him to continue into World Cup qualifying and beyond after the Gold Cup defeat this summer. This is his toughest stretch since taking charge back in 2011 by quite some distance. He grasps the withering criticism hurled his way, but he plans to lead the side through what he calls this rainy period and back into the sunshine once more nevertheless.
“When you go through different cycles, you are not only having good moments,” Klinsmann said. “I understand if some people are really critical because of the disappointment with the Gold Cup and because of the big disappointment against Mexico. I respect that. But, at the same time, with everything that does not go my way, I get even hungrier to turn it around the other way. That’s just in me. That’s why I’m going to take this team and go through that.”
The burden to arrest this slide does not just fall at Klinsmann’s feet, even if he draws most of the scrutiny. It is incumbent on the players to assess their own missteps and respond accordingly. The limitations in the group are familiar at this point. The limitations within the player development structure strip away alternatives. There are no white knights waiting to wave away all of those concerns.
Those issues offer context, but they do not absolve the players for a series of displays disappointing displays. They haven’t met the required standard, either. Some of the hard-earned principles — the ability to accentuate strengths, the defiance, the organization and the willingness to outwork the other team — are fraying. Those familiar traits must return in short order to provide the foundation for any planned resurgence.
“As players, we have to take responsibility,” U.S. defender Geoff Cameron said. “It’s not him. It’s the players that are on the pitch who have to perform. It is what it is. We have to go out there and perform. As a team, we’re not producing. We’re not playing the way we should or as well as we could.”
Those issues are evident from watching the team over the past few months and over the past few days. The veterans in the team aren’t always hitting their capabilities. The players plotting to displace them from the side aren’t making a strong enough case to push them out of the plans. It leaves a frustrating, underwhelming stasis where the present isn’t good enough and the future isn’t quite ready to arrive.
“I think we have to stand up and be counted as well,” U.S. forward Jozy Altidore said. “At the end of the day, we have a lot of experienced guys who have played at high levels. I think we need the young guys to step up. We need them to add that injection into the team. We need to get younger, we need to get those guys to step up now. Everybody has to do their role going into the next cycle.”
It is up to Klinsmann to strike the proper balance with World Cup qualifying on the horizon. There are no guarantees of success at this point. There is only a glaring need to improve the situation in short order to ensure this slide halts when the important matches commence again.
These difficult spells are part and parcel of the game. Even the best sides in the world encounter adversities from time to time. They return to the top by addressing the concerns and working through them within the means at their disposal.
If there is one silver lining to this fallow period, it is that the confidence isn’t shaken. The conviction forged in Brazil last summer and reinforced in Germany and Netherlands earlier this year still endures. There is still an internal belief that this group — warts and all — and this coach can turn things around by the time World Cup qualifying starts next month.
“The simple fact is that we weren’t the best team in the world when we were beating all of those teams and having great years in 2013 and 2014,” Howard said. “We’re not the worst team in the world right now. It’s fine. We’ll get two wins against St. Vincent and against Trinidad and everybody will be happy again.”